OUR VIEW

Protecting our valley

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It has been a tough week for tourism officials in Steamboat and the rest of Colorado. First, there were the wildfires near Glenwood Springs, Denver and Durango and Gov. Bill Owens' rather dramatic if somewhat inaccurate statement "all of Colorado is burning."

Tourism officials were aghast, worried that potential visitors would be discouraged from taking trips to places like Steamboat which, like most communities in Colorado, is not burning.

But Owens deserves some slack. With a massive fire threatening the state's largest metropolitan area, the governor was simply trying to capture the seriousness of the situation.

When Owens said it looked like "nuclear winter" in areas near the fires, he wasn't worrying that he was scaring tourists away, he was simply being honest.

Owens need not apologize. Right now, what should be foremost on his mind are the fires, not tourists, who will continue to find their way to Colorado despite worries about what Owens has said.

Similarly, the decision by several cities around the state including Steamboat Springs to cancel their annual July Fourth fireworks displays indicates how seriously municipalities are treating the dry conditions and the fire risk. But we need not worry such cancellations will have a lasting impact on tourism.

In Steamboat Springs, the fireworks display has always been a highlight of Independence Day. Coming right after the evening rodeo performance, the fireworks lit up the sky and were visible from points around the city.

But no matter how nice the show is, lighting fireworks just doesn't seem prudent this year. The City Council made the right choice.

"The conditions we have are so severe," Assistant Fire Chief Bob Struble said, "if we get some spark fires, which occur every year, we might not be able to contain them."

Struble noted it would take a month's worth of daily rain to bring conditions back into a safe range. That's not going to happen.

Tourism-dependent merchants took the city's decision in stride. The fireworks show, they noted, is but one event that draws visitors to Steamboat for the holiday.

The rodeo and the two-day String Cheese Incident concert are also big draws, and the lack of a fireworks display shouldn't hurt the crowds for those events.

Beyond the events, Steamboat's most important attraction is the beauty of the land that surrounds it. Certainly no fireworks show is worth the risk of seeing that scenery go up in smoke.

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